India v Sri Lanka, 1st T20I, Pune February 8, 2016

Dhoni juggles SL series priorities with World T20 prep

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'T20 team well balanced' - Dhoni

Sri Lanka don't have a mystery spinner. That should be enough to stop the press, but that is not the end of the story. The cricketing shrewdness of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara has not come close to being replaced. Even Angelo Mathews and Lasith Malinga are not there and Tillakaratne Dilshan will miss the opening game of this three-T20I series. Their coach has only just taken charge. India are thus the favourites going into this World T20-preparation series, but MS Dhoni knows all too well the vagaries of the format. He knows a player can change the game in 10 balls. Win it or even lose it.

"What really happens in this format is, the difference between the sides is very narrow," Dhoni said. "What it boils down to is how good your match winners are playing. You can have only one big hitter in the side but if it's his day, he can take the game away from you. And it can happen in just 10 or 12 balls."

India have to find a mix between doing what is best for this series and what is best for the World T20. In Virat Kohli's absence, batting Suresh Raina at his beloved No. 3 is best for this series, but Dhoni is also looking at what is best for World T20.

"I think it will be slightly better if Raina bats at the position that he will most likely bat in the World Cup," Dhoni said. "It will give him that exposure. Also we are not a team that plays a lot of T20Is. Usually we play one game in a bilateral series. So this gives him an opportunity to expose him to No. 4 for a consistent period of time. The opportunity is there to make him bat at three and use some other batter [at four] but I think it will be more appropriate if he bats at No. 4 and gets adjusted."

One of the targets is to watch out against the fatigue and not peak too early, although some might say their 3-0 win in Australia was their peak. "We have quite a few targets in mind," Dhoni said. "Winning games is important. But at the same time what will be more crucial is, we have to keep everyone fit. It's almost the same 15 that will play till the World T20. It's important to keep everyone fit so that the best XI is always available for selection. That will be the key factor."

Dhoni is also aware perhaps that India's recent record in limited-overs cricket on the slower pitches of Asia hasn't been great. The batsmen haven't been as dominant as before and added to that is the slightly unusual sand-based outfield in Pune. It is slower than usual and high balls just sit in the ground. It is just as well that the straight boundaries are short, because during the practice sessions out in the middle, balls hit in the air lost all sting upon hitting the turf.

Pandurang Salgaocar, the chief groundsman, said this was a normal outfield and that the well-timed shots will travel. If he is wrong, it may well provide the much-needed balance between bat and ball if only for just one game.

Practically in the middle of nowhere, seemingly halfway to Mumbai, in conditions they have not played much IPL cricket in, India will begin their home stretch to the World T20. Shikhar Dhawan at the top of the order, Yuvraj Singh at No. 6 and Hardik Pandya as the allrounder will be the unknowns they will want to know more about.

For Dhoni, though, the Maharashtra Cricket Association stadium will now be his IPL home and he has already found comfort factors. Even before he went to the nets, he made his way to the much talked-about dog kennel. Twenty-four dogs here are part of the security team. Dhoni even wanted to adopt a golden retriever back in the day. As he waited on, the dog, Prince, settled down and made this ground his home, Dhoni might not get to take the dog away. Pune, though, has certainly taken to Dhoni.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Oldtimer01 on February 9, 2016, 13:41 GMT

    @vswami - in that case, how is it that the likes of dhawan and jadeja has been given chances for years and years altogether while deserving youngsters have not been given even one chance? It is apparent that whoever enjoys dhoni's support is guaranteed a place in the indian team years altogether regardless of performance.

  • Jose...P on February 9, 2016, 13:12 GMT

    P.S.

    Yes. This series is a Post Script. I don't remember, that it was scheduled in the FTP. But Monga gave a better definition of P,S. Preparation Series! For the WC T-20. Started reading THAT into whatever Dhoni (D) said.

    D: "You can have only one big hitter in the side but if it's his day, he can take the game away from you."

    Look at WI team. They have quite a few big hitters. All of them can't be kept quite by all the teams. So, their stock goes up? All the way? Can't predict them.

    D: "I think it will be more appropriate if he (Raina) bats at No. 4 and gets adjusted." to it before the WC.

    Curious to know, who is his No 4 for this series.

    D: "It's important to keep everyone fit so that the best XI is always available for selection." (for WC).

    So, is there a chance for all the 15 getting a chance over the 3 matches?

    D: "It is slower than usual, and high balls just sit in the ground"

    Expect a low scoring match?

    May be not. He adds, "the straight boundaries are short.

  • manish053 on February 9, 2016, 11:08 GMT

    I think Dhoni should not do much experiment in the light of T-20 World cup starting the next month. He just does thing which can be enhance the possibilities to thrash opponent Srilanka without caring what does it is and what 's their outfit. A skipper should also keep in mind to win not to find a mix to coming events. If he does this sot of things India may lose the no. 1 rank in this format and that will not be good to keep energy of the team to the next big show.

  • vswami on February 9, 2016, 5:59 GMT

    @OLDTIMER01 I thought the captain's job is to pick a team that will matches, and not to please every fan club of all the players in the squad.

  •   Rishikesh Kulkarni on February 9, 2016, 5:58 GMT

    @MADHUSUDHAN_6-WD-4-NB-3-WKT-2-LBW-1 your claim of Indians performing due to the forthcoming auction has no steam. all the players who played except Yuvraj Singh and Ashish Nehra had an IPL team contract. The case of under-strength Aussie squad is true but the reason they rested some seniors was the Chappell-Hadlee trophy which the eventually lost. Aussies were beaten even with seniors in side in 1st t20. Starc could have made a difference but then India too were missing Md. Shami who had a good world cup and is the one of the better Indian limited overs bowler

  • Oldtimer01 on February 9, 2016, 4:07 GMT

    This is where we will clearly see dhoni's bias for certain players. And because of home conditions, India will most likely do well (even though those favoured players fail), which means that Indian fans will overlook the poor selection and dhoni will be hailed as a great captain.

  • CricketChat on February 9, 2016, 0:08 GMT

    T20 WC could well be final saga for Indian captain Dhoni's career. Whether he plays beyond WC or not, I expect Kohli to replace him in short formats as well after WC. I don't think Dhoni will play merely as a player risking being dropped. Anyway, it's time to celebrate his career one last time.

  • RIPPER27 on February 8, 2016, 19:44 GMT

    What is about ICC tournaments that charges Dhoni up ? Suddenly his body language , tactics , stroke play is so positive & brings the best of Dhoni . Best of luck Team India !

  • Nampally on February 8, 2016, 19:18 GMT

    Dhoni needs to bat Yuvraj & Hardik higher up in the batting order. There is no point in Raina batting at #4. Put these 2 at #'s 4 & 5.Raina has chances to bat @#4 in the next 2 ODI's + in Asia Cup. Evaluating Hardik Pandya is crucial to make a choice between him or a specialist batsman for the WC. In Australia neither got a full trial either in bowling or batting. It is time for experimenting. Secondly, rest Nehra, Jadeja & Ashwin. They deserve time off after tough Aussie tour. Negi & Harbhajan are in the squad to test whether they are up to it! India needs a "well Rested & well Tested" XI for the WC.

  • Madhusudhan_6-Wd-4-NB-3-Wkt-2-LBW-1 on February 8, 2016, 17:10 GMT

    Against India, there is no need for a mystery spinner or sanga or mahela. Dilshan + Angelo + Chandimal + Siriwardhana is enough. There is no need for any serious or complicated planning for T20 match. In T20, both teams are equal. Players like Gayle, Sunil Narine can make difference on their day, given the fickle nature of T20 format. Pending IPL auction motivated the Team India to perform against depleted Aussies in last T20 series. Now Sri Lanka is not very good frame of mind with injuries. Balance is slight in favour of Team India, once the match starts it will tilt both ways.

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